The COVID-19 pandemic has affected most areas of our lives, including our sleep. In fact, a research study that included participants from 39 countries shows that close to 40% of the people surveyed are experiencing sleep issues due to the pandemic.
From worrying about or having the illness to schedule changes, isolation, stress, and personal and financial loss, the pandemic has certainly given us plenty of things to lose sleep over.
However, according to Dr. Gary Levinson, a board-certified internal medicine and sleep medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and the Cushman Wellness Center in the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion, it is important that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night — especially when trying to cope with pandemic-related issues. And the quality of that sleep is crucial.
“By quality, we mean the depth of your sleep,” Dr. Levinson says. “If you sleep a lot, but you’re waking up a lot, it doesn’t really help much. You’re not going to get that nice, restorative deep sleep.”
The importance of — and barriers to — deep sleep
Deep sleep is the stage of sleep you need to feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning. It is approximately 13% to 23% of your total sleep and is necessary to:
- Restore energy
- Regenerate cells
- Increase blood supply to muscles
- Promote growth and repair of tissues and bones
- Strengthen the immune system
- Consolidate memories
- Improve resiliency
Unfortunately, along with the concerns and conditions of COVID-19, there are a variety of other factors that can affect sleep. Dr. Levinson advises that chemicals such as alcohol, caffeine, certain medications, smoking and extreme temperatures can be sleep-stealing culprits as well.
“Typically, chemical signals in the brain influence your sleep and wake cycles,” he says. “Anything that shifts the balance of these neurotransmitters can make you feel either more drowsy or more awake.”
Tips to get deep sleep
To combat the sleep challenges, Dr. Levinson recommends people first take a look at their sleep schedule and make efforts to maintain a routine that allows for adequate total sleep time every night.
“I typically recommend going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations, when you might be tempted to sleep in,” Dr. Levinson says. “You want to train your brain to have a schedule. Set an alarm to get up in the morning and try to go to sleep at a similar time every night.”
He offers these additional tips to achieve quality sleep:
- Exercise every day. Aerobic activities, such as cycling, running and swimming, can help you achieve more deep sleep, but try to avoid exercising during the few hours before going to bed.
- Clear your mind before bedtime. Make a to-do list early in the evening, so you won’t stay awake in bed worrying about the next day.
- Create a healthy sleep environment. Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable, turn down the lights, avoid distracting sounds and keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
- Relax. Before bed, take a warm bath, read or do another relaxing activity to help you wind down.
- Avoid using electronic devices right before bed. Unless you have the intensity down and blue light filters on, any other relaxing activity — yoga, deep breathing, listening to music — is preferable.
“One of the things that is very helpful is to allow for a body temperature change,” Dr. Levinson says. “So oftentimes, I recommend patients take a warm bath or shower before bedtime, and as your body temperature drops, sleep will be induced.”
If these steps don’t help, and you find yourself having trouble falling or staying asleep, or you are feeling extra drowsy during the day, Dr. Levinson encourages you to talk with your doctor. There are many treatments available for sleep disorders.